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Obama tells Pope Francis he is a ‘great admirer’

KDWN

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A visibly energized President Barack Obama held a nearly hourlong audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, expressing his great admiration for the pontiff and inviting him to visit the White House.

Although Obama and the church remain deeply split over abortion and contraception, Obama considers the pontiff a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality, and their private meeting in the Papal Library ran longer than scheduled. After they emerged to cameras, Francis presented Obama with a copy of his papal mission statement decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor. Obama said he will keep it in the Oval Office.

The president and pope both appeared tense at the start of the audience, when they initially greeted one another, but then were all smiles by the end of the meeting and seemed to have found a rapport, though they spoke through interpreters.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” Obama said after greeting the pope with a slight bow as they shook hands. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid all the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way in a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at the pope’s desk, as is custom for a papal audience.

The two were scheduled to meet for just half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes. At the end, they exchanged gifts, with the pope offering Obama two medallions and a copy of his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“You know, I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down,” Obama said.

“I hope,” the pope responded.

In a brief departure from all the formality, the metal support stilts being used to prop up the gifts repeatedly gave way, causing an audible crash that drew the consternation of the Vatican’s protocol monsignors and a look from Obama. Eventually, aides gave up on using the stilts.

Obama presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, mentioning that he understands the pope is opening the gardens at the papal summer residence to the public. The chest was inscribed with the date of their meeting and custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica – one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the U.S.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” Obama said. The pope responded “Why not,” in Spanish. Obama later joked that there’s more pageantry surrounding a Vatican visit than at the White House. “His Holiness is probably the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me,” Obama said.

It is likely that Francis will travel to the U.S. in September 2015 for the church’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Popes have attended these family celebrations five of the past seven times they have been held, and Francis has put family issues at the forefront of his agenda.

The Vatican has not confirmed the trip and likely will not until a few months before.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has extended a formal and open invitation to the pope to address Congress when he visits the United States.

As Obama departed, he said to the pope, “Muchas gracias.” Then in English he added: “Please pray for me and my family.”

It was an echo of how Francis usually ends his meetings, asking for people to pray for him.

“They are with me on this journey,” Obama said of his family. He said his wife and children “have to put up with me.”

As they met, the six-year president, with his sinking poll numbers, wouldn’t have been blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church. In Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president’s own economic agenda.

“Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit. “He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion.”

After leaving the Vatican midday, Obama made his way to Rome’s Quirinal Palace for meetings and a working lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican. His audience marks a change of pace for the president, who has devoted the past three days of a weeklong, four-country trip to securing European unity against Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine.

Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting with his wife and daughters that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion. Obama recalled that visit after leaving Pope Francis to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, but got the year wrong. He said it was in 2010, when it was in 2009. Parolin didn’t correct him.

To be sure, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. And Vatican officials say Obama would not leave without hearing Francis’ opposition to Obama’s health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage. The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs.

Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad Thursday in the International New York Times as an open letter to Obama declaring that “Francis’ interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”

Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion – he has said he’s a “son of the church” – but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere. He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church.

He caused a fuss in November when he decried some conservative economic theories as unproven. “The excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.

Kuhnhenn reported from Rome.

Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://www.twitter.com/jkuhnhenn and Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Obama tells Pope Francis he is a ‘great admirer’

KDWN

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A visibly energized President Barack Obama held a nearly hourlong audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, expressing his great admiration for the pontiff and inviting him to visit the White House.

Although Obama and the church remain deeply split over abortion and contraception, Obama considers the pontiff a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality, and their private meeting in the Papal Library ran longer than scheduled. After they emerged to cameras, Francis presented Obama with a copy of his papal mission statement decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor. Obama said he will keep it in the Oval Office.

The president and pope both appeared tense at the start of the audience, when they initially greeted one another, but then were all smiles by the end of the meeting and seemed to have found a rapport, though they spoke through interpreters.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” Obama said after greeting the pope with a slight bow as they shook hands. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid all the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way in a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at the pope’s desk, as is custom for a papal audience.

The two were scheduled to meet for just half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes. At the end, they exchanged gifts, with the pope offering Obama two medallions and a copy of his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”

“You know, I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down,” Obama said.

“I hope,” the pope responded.

In a brief departure from all the formality, the metal support stilts being used to prop up the gifts repeatedly gave way, causing an audible crash that drew the consternation of the Vatican’s protocol monsignors and a look from Obama. Eventually, aides gave up on using the stilts.

Obama presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, mentioning that he understands the pope is opening the gardens at the papal summer residence to the public. The chest was inscribed with the date of their meeting and custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica – one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the U.S.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” Obama said. The pope responded “Why not,” in Spanish. Obama later joked that there’s more pageantry surrounding a Vatican visit than at the White House. “His Holiness is probably the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me,” Obama said.

It is likely that Francis will travel to the U.S. in September 2015 for the church’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Popes have attended these family celebrations five of the past seven times they have been held, and Francis has put family issues at the forefront of his agenda.

The Vatican has not confirmed the trip and likely will not until a few months before.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has extended a formal and open invitation to the pope to address Congress when he visits the United States.

As Obama departed, he said to the pope, “Muchas gracias.” Then in English he added: “Please pray for me and my family.”

It was an echo of how Francis usually ends his meetings, asking for people to pray for him.

“They are with me on this journey,” Obama said of his family. He said his wife and children “have to put up with me.”

As they met, the six-year president, with his sinking poll numbers, wouldn’t have been blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church. In Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president’s own economic agenda.

“Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit. “He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion.”

After leaving the Vatican midday, Obama made his way to Rome’s Quirinal Palace for meetings and a working lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican. His audience marks a change of pace for the president, who has devoted the past three days of a weeklong, four-country trip to securing European unity against Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine.

Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting with his wife and daughters that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion. Obama recalled that visit after leaving Pope Francis to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, but got the year wrong. He said it was in 2010, when it was in 2009. Parolin didn’t correct him.

To be sure, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. And Vatican officials say Obama would not leave without hearing Francis’ opposition to Obama’s health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage. The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs.

Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad Thursday in the International New York Times as an open letter to Obama declaring that “Francis’ interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”

Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion – he has said he’s a “son of the church” – but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere. He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church.

He caused a fuss in November when he decried some conservative economic theories as unproven. “The excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.

Kuhnhenn reported from Rome.

Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://www.twitter.com/jkuhnhenn and Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Obama tells Pope Francis he is a ‘great admirer’

KDWN

VATICAN CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama called himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their nearly hourlong first meeting comes as Obama’s administration remains deeply split with the church over abortion and contraception.

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way to greet the pope after a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at a wooden table in the Papal Library.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” a broadly grinning Obama said. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

The two were scheduled to meet for just half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes. Obama seemed buoyed by the meeting as they emerged and the pope greeted a handful of Obama’s senior advisers. Obama’s Catholic secretary of state, John Kerry, pronounced himself “a great admirer of everything you’ve been doing, as a Catholic, for the church.”

The president and pope both appeared tense at the start of the audience, when they initially greeted one another, but then were all smiles by the end of the meeting and seemed to have found a rapport, though they spoke through interpreters.

They exchanged gifts, with the pope offering Obama two medallions and a copy of his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which he denounced the global economic system that excludes the poor.

“You know, I actually will probably read this when I’m in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated and I am sure it will give me strength and will calm me down,” Obama said.

“I hope,” the pope responded.

Obama presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, mentioning that he heard the pope is opening the gardens at the papal summer residence to the public. The chest was inscribed with the date of their meeting and is custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica – one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the U.S.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” Obama said. The pope responded “Why not,” in Spanish. Obama later joked that there’s more pageantry surrounding a Vatican visit than at the White House. “His Holiness is probably the only person who has to put up with more protocol than me,” Obama said.

In a brief departure from all the formality, the support stilts being used to prop up a gift from Francis repeatedly gave way, causing an audible crash that captured Obama’s attention. Eventually, aides gave up on using the stilts to hold up the gift.

As Obama departed, he said to the pope, “Muchas gracias.” Then in English he added: “Please pray for me and my family.”

It was an echo of how Francis usually ends his meetings, asking for people to pray for him.

“They are with me on this journey,” Obama said of his family. He said his wife and children “have to put up with me.”

As they met, the six-year president, with his sinking poll numbers, wouldn’t have been blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church. In Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president’s own economic agenda.

“Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit. “He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion.”

After leaving the Vatican midday, Obama made his way to Rome’s Quirinal Palace for meetings and a working lunch with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican. His audience marks a change of pace for the president, who has devoted the past three days of a weeklong, four-country trip to securing European unity against Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine.

Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting with his wife and daughters that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion. Obama recalled that visit after leaving Pope Francis to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, but got the year wrong. He said it was in 2010, when it was in 2009. Parolin didn’t correct him.

To be sure, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. And Vatican officials say Obama would not leave without hearing Francis’ opposition to Obama’s health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage. The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs.

Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad Thursday in the International New York Times as an open letter to Obama declaring that “Francis’ interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”

Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion – he has said he’s a “son of the church” – but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere. He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church.

He caused a fuss in November when he decried some conservative economic theories as unproven. “The excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.

Francis’ attention to poverty has also captured the attention of Republicans in the U.S., prompting some to stake out high-profile anti-poverty positions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has extended a formal and open invitation to the pope to address Congress when he visits the United States.

No doubt there is a political dimension to Obama’s visit as well. The president won the Catholic vote in both of his elections, helped by heavy support from Hispanic Catholics. Some of that support has since waned.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that the pope remains hugely popular, with more than 4 out of 5 American Catholics saying they view the pontiff favorably.

Kuhnhenn reported from Rome.

Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://www.twitter.com/jkuhnhenn and Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Obama tells Pope Francis he is a “great admirer”

KDWN

VATICAN CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama called himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic nearly hourlong first meeting comes as Obama’s administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception.

Obama arrived at the Vatican amid the pomp and tradition of the Catholic Church, making his way to greet the pope after a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at a wooden table in the Papal Library.

“It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” a broadly grinning Obama said. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

The two were scheduled to meet for half an hour, but their private discussion lasted 52 minutes. Obama seem buoyed by the meeting as they emerged and the pope greeted a handful of Obama’s senior advisers. Catholic Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself “a great admirer of everything you’ve been doing, as a Catholic, for the church.”

Obama then presented the pope with a seed chest with fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden, in honor of the pope’s announcement earlier this year that he’s opening the gardens of the papal summer residence to the public. The chest was custom-made of leather and reclaimed wood from the Baltimore Basilica, one of the oldest Catholic cathedrals in the U.S, and inscribed with the date of their meeting.

As they meet, the six-year president, with his sinking poll numbers, would not be blamed for seeking some reflected glory from a pope who, one year into his pontificate, is viewed as an agent of change in the Roman Catholic Church.

Obama is the ninth president to make an official visit to the Vatican. His audience marks a change of pace for the president, who has devoted the past three days of a weeklong, four-country trip to securing European unity against Russia’s aggressive posture toward Ukraine.

The pope whom Obama will sit with this time is a different pontiff than the last one to host him. Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, a cordial meeting that nevertheless drew attention to the differences between the church and Obama on abortion.

To be sure, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. And Vatican officials say Obama will not leave without having heard Francis’ views on Obama’s health care law and its mandates for contraception coverage. But in Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president’s economic agenda.

“Given his great moral authority, when the pope speaks it carries enormous weight,” Obama said in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera published ahead of his papal visit. “He can cause people around to the world to stop and perhaps rethink old attitudes and begin treating one another with more decency and compassion.”

Several presidents have found allies if not comfort in the pope.

President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II famously shared an antipathy for the former Soviet Union, Reagan the Cold War warrior and the pope a Polish priest who fought communism in his country and later in Europe.

“Sometimes in these meetings there are compatible personalities,” said Paul Begala, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and a Catholic himself. He recalled being with Clinton when the president met John Paul II in Denver.

“They were only supposed to meet alone for five minutes,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “Those two gregarious, charismatic men sat in that room for an hour without another soul in there.”

The Obama-Francis chemistry remains to be seen, but thematically both seem to be on some of the same pages.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, at the Vatican this week trying to secure Francis’ attendance in Philadelphia next year, said he expected the Obama-Francis meeting to be good for both the U.S. and the Vatican.

“We have the most important religious figure in the world as part of that meeting, and one of the most important political leaders, so anytime the church and politics come together is an important moment for dialogue, discussion and the commitment to the common good,” Chaput told reporters Tuesday at the Vatican.

Still, there are difficult areas of discord between U.S. bishops and the Obama administration over abortion and the administration’s health care overhaul. U.S. bishops were among the most outspoken opponents of Obamacare, objecting to its mandatory coverage of contraception. The Supreme Court this week seemed divided when hearing arguments in a case in which companies argued that they have religious rights and can object to such coverage based on such beliefs.

Vatican officials noted that during the recent visit of Secretary of State John Kerry with his Vatican counterpart Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the cardinal raised the issue of the health care mandate. The Vatican statement issued after that meeting said Parolin had “expressed the concern of the U.S. bishops for the reforms in relation to the guarantee of religious freedom and conscientious objection.”

Anticipating that the issue will be a topic of their meeting, Catholics for Choice published an ad in the International New York Times Thursday as an open letter to Obama declaring that “Francis’ interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”

Francis faithfully backs church teaching on abortion – he has said he’s a “son of the church” – but his emphasis and tone are elsewhere. He has said he wants his church to be more of a missionary, welcoming place for wounded souls rather than a moralizing church.

He caused a fuss in November when he decried some conservative economic theories as unproven. “The excluded are still waiting,” he wrote.

Francis’ attention to poverty has also captured the attention of Republicans, prompting some to stake out high-profile anti-poverty positions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has extended a formal and open invitation to the pope to address Congress when he visits the United States.

No doubt there is a political dimension to Obama’s visit as well. The president won the Catholic vote in both of his elections, helped by heavy support from Hispanic Catholics. Some of that support has waned since.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center found that the pope remains hugely popular, with more than 8 in 10 U.S. Catholics saying they have a favorable view of the pontiff.

Kuhnhenn reported from Rome. Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Vatican City and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

Follow Jim Kuhnhenn at http://www.twitter.com/jkuhnhenn and Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield